BirdWatch Ireland owns and manages a 222 acres (90 hectares) nature reserve comprising coastal grasslands, with marshes, fen, and wet Birch woodland. The lands are situated east of Newcastle village comprising the coastal block of Blackditch Lower, bordered to the north by the Sea Road to Six Mile Point and to the south by the Sea Road to Five Mile Point. The eastern boundary is formed by the railway line and shingle bank bordering the Irish Sea. The western boundary borders slightly raised farmland in tillage, that extends inland to Newcastle village and the R 761 roadway.
The nature reserve was purchased in 2002 , part funded by an EU LIFE Nature grant, with the plan to restore habitats to a natural state by managing land and water courses to benefit priority birds and habitats, thus qualifying the whole of the area to be designated a Natura 2000 site under the EU Birds and Habitats Directive. The management regime includes summer grazing of the grasslands by ca 100 cattle, at a low stocking density and grazing by hardy native Kerry Bog ponies in the fen habitat, to prevent encroachment of scrub.
The management regime has shown a significant benefit to bird numbers on the reserve with maximum counts of 8 selected wetland species increasing in number from 148 in 2003 to 1,954 in 2010. The reserve also hosts a range of dragonfly and butterfly species demonstrating a wide biodiversity.
It is also a priority to develop the reserve in terms of public perception and awareness of the importance of wetlands both as an educational resource for the local community while maximizing its tourist potential for visitors. This includes provision of three observation hides, developing boardwalks and a 4km circular looped walk to improve opportunities for recreational walking and field education activities. A series of school visits and open days is operated on a seasonal basis. Visit http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/ for more information on the East Coast Reserve and how you can get involved.